Philosophical analysis is necessary but insufficient. Often when engaging with interesting philosophical perspectives, the only drive is to understand, dissect, compare and contrast. If the primary vehicle for philosophical encounter is words on a page, the straightforward philosophical participation is to muse and write new words on new pages. There’s nothing wrong with that; my words would not be here without such a drive. There is, however, a well-known complement to the mind’s remapping of read words into written words that engages the mind in something other than mere verbal transformation. Aside from the digestion and regurgitation of theory, there is the embodiment and the practical living of theoretical precepts, which is called praxis.
Open Individual (OI) is the theoretical perspective on personal identity that holds a single experiencer as the subject of all experiences. The single experiencer in OI is seeing through my eyes right now and saw through them yesterday, but it is also seeing and saw through your eyes and everyone else’s too at all times. Open Individualism contrasts with Closed Individualism, the more conventional view in Western philosophy that holds a distinct experiencer for every body, remaining stable throughout each body’s life, and it contrasts with Empty Individualism, which holds a distinct experiencer for every experience, tearing apart even all of the back-to-back experiences in single bodies that CI would bind together.
That’s a short introduction to Open, Closed, and Empty Individualism—probably way too short for the reader that has never encountered them before (if that’s you, here is a good resource). My goal, however, is not to develop more theory about them, but to imagine what a praxis or praxes of OI might look like. Praxis can be described abstractly, but it is better to derive it concretely. Thus I trace my imagination through a specific example that I’ve cultivated for several years. I don’t doubt that this is but one example among many. Still, I haven’t searched the space of OI praxis particularly thoroughly, so I can’t be certain of that certainty. My mission is thus both to expound my example of OI praxis and to demonstrate a process for how other examples might be found.
Before I begin with my own example of praxis for OI, I can identify one recurring soundbite that might also be an example, but which on closer inspection I do not believe is particularly compelling. The claim often (if not generally) surfaces in presentations of OI that if Open Individualism were a widespread belief, then human society would express much more compassion and empathy. Certainly this is a likely consequence. A shift in perspective about the connectedness of our minds with those of others would likely lead to a shift in altruistic vs selfish behaviors. To adopt such a futuristic possibility about human society as a praxis, however, would involve its immediate politicization and its shoehorning into a social movement. Such a praxis would be little more than ordinary human organizational behavior with an extraordinary goal notwithstanding: to spread a message about the nature of who we are. Adopting such a praxis may certainly be noble, but to do so in an exclusive way would be to ignore OI qua OI and its fascinating and unique contributions distinct in kind from all different beliefs that would also induce compassion and empathy at scale.
Open Individualism makes some radical claims about our relationships with each other and our relationships with our experiences. These claims may not be “true” in a way that permits empirical or technological advantages over Closed and Empty Individualism, but they do offer a framework for constructing new thoughts and identifying new connections. Most importantly, that framework may allow us to see alignments between conceptualities and deliberate behaviors that are the very substance of praxis. We can consider ordinary activities and then cast them into the extraordinary framework of OI and see what kind of hopes and motivations come out.
One activity that seems to be extremely common among humans is talking with oneself, and it is the basis of the example I will use. In particular when it is done with the movement of no muscles, we all have the experience of engaging, silently and effortlessly, with each of our own self as an audience. Often it’s just a brief monologue, sometimes a more intense dialogue. What happens if we consider such talking with oneself in the context of Open Individualism? Well, if we’re all just one experiencer, then the ability to talk with oneself silently and effortlessly would include the ability for anyone to do so with all the other pseudo-I’s elsewhere and elsewhen. Obviously this isn’t a deduced claim about the nature of OI (else it would be immediately disproved!), but instead more of an aspiration—a child’s gleeful dream sprouting after Open Individualism is sown on the fertile ground of their imagination. When the goal is praxis, what follows after a gleeful dream is not a return to rigor and a proof or disproof, but a creative pursuit of the dream—a good faith attempt to reconcile the dream with the theory in a way that motivates behavior.
So let’s try to reconcile this dream resulting from the collision of Open Individualism and talking with oneself. A hallmark of OI is that it understands the relationship one has with oneself at different times to be substantially similar to the relationship one has with others. Thus OI can inspire us, as a first step, to think about talking with oneself as an activity temporally displaced across experiences in one body. Usually we think about talking with oneself as something that can be packaged up into a short, self-contained episode happening at a specific time, but we can imagine what it would be like for one to talk to oneself in the past or the future. I could bury a letter to myself in a time capsule or upload myself speaking to myself to YouTube, but let’s stay with the silent and effortless motif suggested earlier. Silently and effortlessly talking to myself with temporal displacement would require me to start an intentional dialogue with myself that I would set down and then continue later after a period of time doing other things. I can think to myself “I hope you’re doing well :)” while imagining myself later thinking “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :)” and then later remember myself thinking “I hope you’re doing well :)” while thinking to myself “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :).”
This is nothing particularly revolutionary yet. Open Individualism, however, encourages us to analogize the temporally-displaced relationship with oneself with one’s relationships with others. I can think “I hope you’re doing well :)” and someone else can think “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :).” A problem arises here. The reason I am capable of enacting both sides of the dialogue as illustrated beforehand is that I have memory that connects my temporally displaced selves. Unfortunately, I have no such shared memory with others. Is memory actually necessary for this feat, though? This is the junction where the dream is most a dream. Memory is sufficient, evidently, because it’s responsible in at least that one case. Responsible for what? Responsible for two instances of the cosmic experiencer engaging silently and effortlessly with each other. Are there other media that can accomplish the same bridging as an individual memory can? Are media strictly necessary at all?
Telepathy makes an entrance. Unfortunately, telepathy does not appear to be a real phenomenon. Telepathy is disproved by the impossibility of causally disconnected information transfer. But information transfer is not the specific praxis we seek; we seek mindful engagement: silent and effortless talking. Telepathy lies disproved, but such engagement is, conceptually, something different. People accurately anticipating and responding to each other’s silent and effortless talking does not have to be telepathic. Perhaps they conferred on what to anticipate beforehand, or perhaps the anticipated is so quotidian that it is likely to spontaneously happen among a set of individuals practicing half-dialogues. The former is a medium leveraging memory, but instead of one memory it is two memories joined at a prior conversation. The latter is no medium at all. Both allow disconnected people to engage in silent and effortless talking; both are the cosmic experiencer communing with itself.
We have hit upon engaging in half-dialogues as a praxis for Open Individualism by building from talking with oneself. It is inspired by what Open Individualism has to say about the commonalities among the relationships between entities that experience, and then it enters back in as something whose practice makes those relationships more tangible and manifest. I’ve elsewhere called this Othermindfulness, and I consider it a praxis for OI. There is more work that can be done to take other activities and cast them into the framework of OI in order to get other or more developed praxes. I hope that you’re inspired to do so, and I hope that you’re also inspired to practice half-dialogues, but if not I hope that you’re at least more familiar with the ways in which others live the principles of Open Individualism.